• Published 3rd Feb 2013
  • 12,170 Views, 976 Comments

Research Project: Sparkle - Axquirix



Crossover between XCOM: Enemy Unknown and MLP. Twilight appears on Earth, shortly after the alien war. How will she cope with being taken prisoner? How will XCOM cope with the single most powerful psion they've ever encountered?

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Operation: Rising Star, Part One

A man’s thick-soled boot trod down on firm ground, careful to avoid stray twigs lying on the forest floor. The fabric of his tough trousers brushed against a large fir tree as he leaned against it, cautiously peeping around its bulk at the ground up ahead. His target was up ahead: stood on four thin legs, alongside a few others of its inhuman kind. There was a good fifty feet of distance before the treeline, maybe another hundred feet of open glen beyond that. One hundred and fifty feet between him and his target. The man set his teeth firmly against each other, gaining determination for his next action.

Slowly, steadily, he brought the long, slender rifle he held in both hands up to bear. The lens cap on the telescopic sight came off, silently placed into a storage pocket kept empty just for the purpose. The man planted his feet firmly into the ground, preparing for the recoil from his weapon. He had one shot at this, there would be no time for repeat shots or reloads.

He placed his eye to the sight.

He lined up the crosshairs over his target’s chest, roughly over where the heart would be located.

He squeezed the trigger gently, taking up the slack before the weapon would fire.

He took one last, steady breath, before holding it and adjusting his aim one final time.

His target glanced up, looking directly at him.

CRACK!

Clouds of birds scattered from the treetops, a cacophony of squawking rising as they fled from their lofty perches. A squirrel shot across the ground in terror, leaping at a tree and scaling its bark with unsurpassed haste. The herd of deer that the hunter had been aiming for bolted, fleeing for the opposite treeline, abandoning their glen to the explosive noise.

The huntsman lifted his finger from the trigger sharply, his ears ringing painfully. He hadn’t actually fired yet, and he didn’t want to waste a shot due to being startled. It was only due to his steadied breathing and rested state that he hadn’t clenched his hand in fright. He steadily lowered the rifle in his hands and looked around, searching for the source of the sound with his eyes since his ears had become unresponsive for the moment.

He didn’t have to look very far; a small patch of woodland nearby had been charred, blackened with soot but thankfully not set aflame. The darkened patch was circular, roughly five feet in diameter, and certainly not vacant. In the centre of the charcoal patch there lay something small, lumpy, and… purple?

It was a hairy-looking shapeless blob, and it steadily pulsed, getting slightly bigger and then smaller, as if it was breathing. The hunter steadily brought his rifle to bear on the lump before approaching it. These were dangerous enough times as it were, and letting his guard down would just be foolish. Making sure to keep his feet just outside the charred circle, the hunter gently prodded the perplexing purple protuberance with the muzzle of his weapon. There was no reaction, so he gave it a bit of a sharper jab. Still, no response came. The hunter bit the inside of his lower lip, thinking for a second. Whatever this thing was, it was out cold.

Curiosity won out over caution at this point, and the hunter used the butt of his rifle to push the lilac mass over, trying to get a better idea of what it was. It unfolded as he rolled it, a set of four legs, a head, two... were those wings? And a lot of dark purple hair loosely flopping out from its main frame. The creature, whatever it was, lacked any defined muscle, but its body and limbs looked fairly thick throughout. Its legs didn’t seem to have any feet or claws, they just sort of stopped. Its face wasn’t exactly normal either – judging by its eyebrows, the eyes were far too large, and there was some sort of odd pointy thing poking out from its forehead. All in all, the uncurled mass just looked weird.

Alien, even.

The huntsman wasted no time after that: he took out a satellite phone and dialled, 9-1-1. He grumbled a little as he waited for the call to connect – this was exactly the sort of thing he’d come out here to avoid, and he’d been living off of his own skill for the better part of a year.

“911,” the operator began, “May I take a call back number in case the call is disconnected?” The hunter quickly rattled off the number for his phone, hearing the girl on the other end of the line tapping keys on a computer as he spoke. “What is the nature of your emergency?” She proceeded.

The hunter gritted his teeth against the word as he spoke it; “Alien activity.”

***

Stamping boots. Clattering weapons. Clear, concise commands. A hydraulics door closed, and the craft attached to it blasted its engines to maximum output, lifting out of the underground hangar and accelerating away from it.

The men and women sat in the craft were silent. They had their orders. None of them were raw recruits; all present had had previous experience with the enemy. All had survived in a field where survival was a respectable achievement.

“We’ve had a report of alien activity in Canada,” Their superior, Officer Bradford, had briefed them, “a single extra-terrestrial was encountered out in the Northwest Territories, miles from the nearest urban centre. We’ve had a brief description of the target, and it isn’t anything we’ve encountered before. It’s possible that this is a hoax, but given recent events we’re playing safe with this. The target was confirmed to be subdued and unharmed from its discovery, and has yet to re-awaken, so if possible we’d like to bring it in that way.

“Colonel Henderson,” He nodded towards a man clad in all-black armour, complete with helmet, and carrying a decidedly unwieldy-looking weapon, “will be the commander on the ground for this mission. Captains Walker and Walker,” He indicated a pair of soldiers in similar armour, but a standard red colour, and whose helmets matched more than their firearms did, “will be in charge of keeping the target subdued. You’ll both be equipped with Arc Throwers for this purpose. Since we aren’t currently aware of what abilities this X-ray might have, Captain Pimenova,” he gestured to a Russian woman wearing her blonde hair pinned back, “will be assigned to psionic impedance, and Major Li and Captain Guseva will be providing additional fire support if hostilities become unavoidable,” he finished, aiming his sight towards an Asian man carrying his somewhat heavy helmet under one arm, and a second Russian woman, whose hair was a lighter shade than the first’s.

There wasn’t much to discuss on the flight from the German border – the situation when they landed might be completely different from their briefing, and the briefing had covered most everything else. Mostly.

“So, what does everyone think this new alien will look like?” Captain William Walker, the first of the Walker brothers, asked the squad.

“It’s on its own, so it’s going to be pretty big, I think,” Captain Pimenova replied. Her English was fluent and unbroken, but still had a distinct accent to it. “Nothing we’ve seen so far is deployed on its own.”

“Not even Sectopods. Christ, this thing is going to be a damned tank or something, isn’t it?” William, or ‘Viking’ as he was sometimes called, replied.

“Lord’s name in vain,” His brother chimed in.

“Shut up, Ben.” William replied.

“What do you think it will look like, Bishop?” Major Li asked the second Captain Walker.

Ben Walker mused on that for a few seconds. “A one-alien army? Pitch-black skin or armour, sixteen, maybe twenty feet tall. Lots of firepower, but built for sustaining damage. Stable footing, four or more legs. Unlikely to fly. Not sure about whether it’d be a machine or a biological. How about you, Crash?”

Dong Li grinned. “Bigger than that, perhaps fifty feet. More guns than you can imagine. Lightly armoured, but fast like a hare. Much different than just a bigger Sectopod.”

“You both are behaving like children,” Captain Elena Guseva spoke up, “we won’t know what it is until we see it, so no point talking about it.”

“Well, what do you think it’ll be?” Viking asked, smirking with his helmet sat on his lap.

“No idea. Maybe giant, scary lobster person that eat faces.” ‘Werewolf’ Guseva replied. She might not have had her grammar perfected, but her sarcasm was unmistakable.

“Hey, no need to go ruining the fun,” Li retorted. He turned to Colonel Henderson. “What about you, Deadeye?”

Henderson had been silent for the whole flight. While everyone else who bothered with a helmet had removed theirs for comfort, his remained on, its single crimson slit-like visor staring directly ahead. He didn’t turn to address his squad when he answered.

“Biological. One head. Dies when you shoot it in it.” He turned the skull decal on the front of his mask to face Li, “Otherwise I’m going to have to get creative.”

“Well, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Bishop replied, “remember, capture first, lethal force only when necessary.”

“I’m giving the orders, Bishop,” Deadeye replied coldly, before addressing the rest of the squad with a simple “what Bishop said. You all ought to know what you’re doing by now, so I shouldn’t have to start giving commands unless we walk into a crisis out there.”

The crew lapsed into silence for a moment, Deadeye having ended the conversation on a decidedly down note to put them all back in a serious state of mind. It was a few minute before someone spoke again.

“Pimenova, you alright?” Bishop asked, noticing the Russian's odd behaviour.

Pimenova was fidgeting, as if plagued by an itch someone on her back, beneath her armour. Except her right eye was twitching a little, too, and she was using one hand to support her head. “I’m fine,” she replied, “but something just feels… off. Like the back of my head’s aching, but there’s nothing wrong with it.”

“Is this psychic thing?” Guseva asked, “It is psychic thing, isn’t it?”

“What’s it about?” Bishop asked.

Pimenova looked him straight in the eyes. “I have no idea,” she replied.

“This is Big Sky, LZ is in sight and we are preparing to land,” the Skyranger’s pilot radioed in.

“Copy, Big Sky,” Officer Bradford came in as the squad began to get their helmets back on and readied their weapons. “Strike One, you are cleared for engagement. Be aware, there is a civilian on the ground, so watch your fire.”

“A civilian?” Viking noted, sounding annoyed, “What’s a civilian doing down there?”

“This is the Middle of Nowhere, Canada,” Big Sky replied, “We needed him to stay put near the thing to signal us in. Otherwise we could spend weeks looking for this thing and still not find it.”

“I hate rescue missions,” Viking noted, “this guy better be able to take care of himself.”

“Viking, are you taking point by the door or am I alone here?” Major Li asked, holding onto one of the rear ramp’s hydraulics with one hand and carrying his heavy support weapon with the other. The rest of the squad had formed up, ready to deploy as soon as the ramp went down.

***

“And then this thing just went an’ exploded into existence next to me,” the hunter, a grizzled man named Jan Peters, concluded his story, “I called the services on the phone, and they put me through to you fellers.”

Bishop nodded, “But you didn’t think to retreat to a safer distance, in case it woke up?” He was still in full combat gear, so Mr. Peters was basically talking to a gold-tinted mirror.

“Shit, son, that thing hasn’t moved since it got here,” Jan replied, nodding towards the purple creature that he had been moved several metres away from. “Even if it did, doesn’t look too dangerous.”

Bishop nodded again; there was little chance that this man could know about psionics, so that was an understandable assumption on his part. It didn’t make it any less dangerous, though. “I think, sir, in future you ought to take more cautious measures when dealing with unknown life forms.”

“Speaking of ‘unknown life forms’, you’re in the military, right? How’s that alien war going?”

“Sir, I’m not”-

“It’s done.” Crash interrupted.

Jan blinked, surprised; “Done? You mean, we won? It’s not even been a year, yet!”

“It isn’t ‘done’ sir,” Bishop resumed, casting a short glare at Major Li through his helmet, “there’s still an alien threat at large. However, we do have them on the retreat, and are mostly dealing with the aftermath of the threat they posed at this point.”

Mr. Peters blinked. “What’s that supposed to mean, exactly?”

“We killed their leader, but there are still a lot of soldiers running about. We’re cleaning all that up now,” Crash explained.

“So it’s safe to go back to the towns and cities?” Jan asked.

“Yes sir.” Crash affirmed.

“Major, would you kindly stop disclosing classified information to civilians?” Bishop asked, turning to face Crash more fully.

“He could hear this on any news network across the world, it is hardly confidential,” Crash responded.

“What military are you guys working for, anyway?” Jan replied, “I’ve never seen that kind of equipment anywhere, and you sound kinda Japanese or something.”

Major Li looked at Mr. Peters, back to his lower-ranked colleague, and then back to the hunter. “That is definitely classified information.” He paused for a second. “And I am Chinese.”

“You’re a loudmouth,” Bishop muttered, moving his left hand to the visor on his helmet.

***

“Hardly intimidating, is it?” Viking asked, casually studying the creature while cradling his Alloy Cannon in his hands.

“What is meaning of that?” Guseva asked, raising an eyebrow at him.

“Well, look at it,” he explained, glancing at her before back to the extra-terrestrial, “It’s a small purple lumpy thing with no fangs, not claws, not pincers or guns. Just four legs, two wings and a head.”

“Mmm,” Guseva hummed her agreement, before looking around, “but Doc has not got to thirty metres of it, and looks like she is sick.”

Viking looked in the same direction as his squad mate. Sure enough, Captain Pimenova was sat a decent distance away, on a tree stump, with both hands cradling the sides of her head, staring at the ground. The two assaults shared a look, before heading over to the psion.

“Doc, you okay?” Viking asked.

Pimenova shook her head, a very slight but very quick movement. Her face was set into an unhealthy grimace, and she was rocking back and forth slightly.

“What’s wrong?” Viking asked, as if he couldn’t guess.

“I-it’s some k-kind of shield,” Pimenova stammered, “L-loose energy, like it-it’s just…” her voice trailed off. She ceased rocking back and forth, and started shuddering instead.

The two assault’s blood ran cold. “Is it too… strong for you?” Guseva asked, hesitantly.

Pimenova shook her head, “N-not sure, this is l-lessening up all the t-time. My head d-doesn’t hurt n-near as m-much as when we g-got here.” Her shuddering died down, and she sat still, though her gaze was still firmly fixed on the ground. “I th-think it’s starting to r-run out of steam.”

Viking nodded. “That’s good, but don’t stress yourself. If we can’t get close enough to it, you’re the only one who can take it down.”

***

Deadeye silently scoped over the scene before him. What were Viking and Werewolf thinking, abandoning their watch over the hostile? That was a rookie mistake. Rookie mistakes tended to be the deadliest ones.

Bishop and Crash seemed to have the civilian under control, though. Thankfully he hadn’t taken to the squad with hostility. That only made sense, since he’d called them there, but it had been possible that he’d been mind-controlled by a hostile faking unconsciousness. He was possibly a bigger threat to the mission than the X-ray was, and needed removing before they proceeded.

Deadeye radioed in. “Bishop, what’s happening with the civilian?”

There was a second of radio silence, and Bishop came back; “We’re debriefing him now, sir. I don’t think he’s of high enough quality for use by the organisation.”

Deadeye nodded. “Understood. Send him on his way, then load up that X-ray. And call Guseva about what’s wrong with Pimenova, she looks like she’s been poisoned. We might have more than just the target on our hands.”

“Affirmative, sir,” the call came back, “we’ll keep our eyes open in case of hostiles, if you think there’s something else out here.”

Deadeye left it at that, opting to scan his perimeter again. No use him having overwatch to assist his squad if he himself could be compromised at any moment. Unfortunately, his self-surveillance meant that he wasn’t looking at the X-ray.

That was a rookie mistake.

***

She hurt. Every part of her just hurt. She would whimper or moan if her throat didn’t feel so sore, or roll into a more comfortable position if all of her joints didn’t ache.

The worst part, though, was her head. Her whole mind felt painful, like someone had delivered a haymaker directly to her intellect.

Slowly, though, it eased up. Coherence became easier, and she began to notice things again. For a start, she was lying on something very hard. That would have to change once her muscles stopped throbbing. Secondly, there was a fair amount of noise. She didn’t know what it was. Some kind of animal, maybe? It was a kind of mish-mash of cooing and grunting, with a smattering of some low, squeak-like noises thrown in. And it wouldn’t stop. It didn’t sound like it was going to, either. That was okay, though, she’d just make it quiet again.

Okay, this was a problem; her magic hurt. Was that even possible? There was something certainly very off about it, it just didn’t feel right. She needed to think about it.

Oh, but thinking hurt too! Okay, small things first. Her name. Okay, how hard could that be?

Twaddle.

No, Twiddle.

Twille?

Twileye.

Twilight!

Twilight Something.

Twilight Sp-something.

Spud.

Spare?

Spar.

Spark.

Sparkle!

Twilight Sparkle!

She afforded herself a mental smile for that. She was Twilight Sparkle, Bearer of the Element of Magic, Personal Student of Princess Celestia, a newly-crowned princess herself, among the most powerful unicorns to ever live, and thinking about all of this was like poking an angry bruise somewhere in her cortex.

That could wait until later, what was wrong with her magic? It felt like it was… leaking? She was definitely casting something, but there was no form or function to the spell. It was just stray magical energy. Well, that could be fixed easily.

Twilight lowered the amount of magic she was chanelling, before shutting it off altogether.

***

“H-hey! It’s gone!” Pimenova said, looking up and around. Viking turned from where he was talking to Bishop to look back at her. “I think it gave up!”

“Great! Can you get control over it?” Bishop asked.

Pimenova bit her lower lip, “I’m not sure, I can try…”

***

Suddenly, a sharp pain drove itself into Twilight’s mind. She panicked, mentally stung by the red-hot probe in her still-fuzzy consciousness. She swatted at it, ineffectively trying to oust it with what magic she could muster. The blade in her mind reacted like it had been slapped, hard, backing off for a moment, before thrusting even deeper.

Twilight lost herself to her panic. She needed it out. Out, right NOW!

***

“Argh!” Pimenova yelled, dropping to her knees, clutching both hands to her head with a audible slap.

“Doc! What happened!?” Viking shouted, running over to her. Everyone present focused on her, concern rising, weapons being readied.

“Out! Get out!” the psion said, her voice cracking, her throat hoarse.

Viking grabbed her by one arm and tried to pull her up. “Doc, you gotta-”

“GET OUT!” The psion screamed, every muscle in her body clenching, curling her over into a ball.

“Snap out of it!” William Walker shouted back, trying to pull her up again. Crash had his gun trained on her, as did Guseva. Bishop was urging the hunter to leave. Jan was being difficult about it, demanding to know what was going on.

“OUT!” The medic shouted one last time, before an invisible wall of force hit her, knocking her upwards and backwards, clean out of Viking’s grip. She flew twenty feet into the nearest tree, and was knocked out cold.

“Ben, get over here!” Viking yelled, “We’ve got a man down!”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the worst order to be shouted during the mission.

“X-ray is awake!” Deadeye shouted from overwatch, “X-ray is moving! Turn your asses around!”

Bishop, Viking, Crash and Werewolf wheeled around, to see a trembling Twilight Sparkle rising to her hooves, her wings spread wide and her horn burning fierce and bright with magic.

Author's Note:

Image of Strike One for this Mission:

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